NHS workforce

This content relates to the following topics:

Part of The NHS in a nutshell

Article information

  • Posted:Thursday 01 October 2020

We know the NHS is facing a workforce crisis, but how many people work in the NHS in England, and what do they do?

Made with Flourish

*There are also many other staff groups who help provide NHS services, for example GPs, dentists and volunteers, but they are not directly employed by the NHS. There are more than 187,000 people working in general practice and more than 24,000 dentists. Slightly more than half of NHS staff have clinical roles (doctors, nurses, midwives, etc). However, a huge variety of roles are required to keep the NHS running, which can overlap with clinical roles; including booking appointments and running clinics, maintaining buildings and equipment, managing patient data and planning and designing services. This includes more than 33,000 managers and more than 56,000 staff looking after the estates. Staff do not always fall neatly into assigned job roles. Some clinician roles involve performance management and contributing to the strategic direction of the health system.

**Additionally, more than half of staff reported working extra unpaid hours on a weekly basis. As well as training and recruiting new staff into the NHS there is also a focus on improving workplace wellbeing in NHS organisations to bring down the number of people who leave. At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS appealed to recent leavers (be that for retirement, going into academia or other reasons) to return to work to support the care of patients. At least 5,000 staff were recorded as joining the workforce in April 2020 as a result. 


    The NHS workforce is growing, but not rapidly enough to keep up with demand, meaning urgent action is required to ensure the NHS has enough staff in place to deliver high-quality care for patients, as well as developing the service for the future. 

    Solving this problem will require consistent and concerted action at a local and a national level to address wide ranging issues such as workforce planning, pay, training and staff wellbeing. It will also require consideration of immigration policy, including arrangements with EU countries, as the NHS looks to ethically recruit staff from overseas to fill vacancies in the short term.

    This challenge is recognised by the government and national bodies. The Conservative party manifesto pledged 50,000 more nurses to be working in the NHS by 2024/25, a new maintenance grant for nursing students, increased funding for professional training and a fast-track visa scheme for foreign doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. In June 2019 NHS England and NHS Improvement published an Interim NHS People Plan, which began to set out their plans for the future of the NHS workforce. In July 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement published the NHS People Promise and a 2020/21 People Plan, setting out how to address workforce pressures through greater recruitment and a renewed focus on a compassionate and inclusive culture. In the absence of government spending decisions being confirmed, the plan still lacks the long-term investment and commitment needed. Further details are expected to be set out later on in the year.

    Get the latest news from The King's Fund

    Subscribe to our newsletters to keep up-to-date with the world of health and social care and hear the latest news and views from The King's Fund.